The Unsung Players Deserve Their Swan Songs

It shows the level that Liverpool have reached in recent years that this season feels like a huge disappointment. Given that Manchester City are currently just two points better off than they were after thirty-seven games last time out, it certainly seems like a missed opportunity for the Reds. Yet at the same time, the manager isn’t wrong when he says that a top four finish would be as big an accomplishment as winning the league was a year ago. The league win was what so many of us have spent our adult lives waiting for, so that it will always be seen as momentous, with the players in the squad going down as legitimate club legends. From Jürgen Klopp’s point of view, though, that was a group of lads that he’d curated and got the peak of their physical condition, so winning the Premier League title in the manner that they did wasn’t all that surprising. Compare and contrast that with what has happened during this campaign and you can see where he’s coming from.

We’ve suffered injury after injury all year, with many of them coming either in the same position or else to players that were covering that position. Losing Virgil van Dijk was always going to make it difficult, but to then lose both Joe Gomez and Joel Matip meant that winning the title was impossible. That being said, I’m sure the manager will look at how many games we lost at home as well as how often we were beaten by teams lower down the table and wonder if he and his players could have responded better to the adversity that they were faced with. That we’re heading into the final day of the season with even a chance of claiming a top four spot, let alone in the box seat to do so, is a minor miracle. That’s before we even mention the likes of Jürgen Klopp and Alisson Becker losing parents and not being able to be with their families to help them cope. It’s been a remarkable season in so many ways, with many of the squad players proving their worth when it mattered.

Phillips & Williams Deserve Heaps Of Praise

Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams are, in many ways, players that are very different from each other. Even aside from their bearings in general, Phillips is twenty-four, four years the senior of Williams. He has more experience and a body that is better adapted to the rigours of regular football. Williams is still learning, still making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Yet the pair of them have stood up to be counted when it has mattered. There’s an argument that neither of them has a future at Liverpool, with Williams damned by his speed rather than his age. I have no doubt that Phillips would be a brilliant signing for a club like Burnley or West Bromwich Albion, given the fact that his limitations would be covered well by the way that they both tend to play their football. Williams is also likely to carve out a career in the top-flight, even if it’s not at Anfield. The grounding that they’ve got under Jürgen Klopp’s management will set them up for life.

All of which is assuming that the manager doesn’t see them continuing their careers under his guidance. It’s possible that he’ll decide that one, if not both, of them deserves their place in the Liverpool squad next season. Some people might think that’s a bit mad, given they’re clearly not at the level expected of our players, but I think both would be fine as a fourth or fifth choice centre-back. After all, how many games would they realistically be expected to play in a season that isn’t as crazy as this one? Maybe two to three league games and then the League Cup? They are both at a level good enough to play in that sense and they’ve demonstrated their commitment to the cause. Whatever decision the manager and his team make on that front, I hope the pair of them get a rousing welcome at Anfield on Sunday. The Liverpool crowd always appreciates players that give their all, and there’s no doubt that they fit into that category.

The Oft-Missing Midfielders

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal against Burnley showed that the attacking midfielder’s career may not be dead yet. We know that Jürgen Klopp is a man who shows faith in his players, sometimes doing so for much longer than he actually should. Yet for Oxlade-Chamberlain, that may prove to be a saving grace. He’s been something of a curate’s egg this season, sometimes looking nowhere near the level required and other times putting in decent cameo performances. He is a player that needs to play regularly to get into rhythm and I’m not convinced that he’ll be able to do so with us, especially if he continues picking up niggling injuries. He’s much less fancied by many than Naby Keita, but in one moment last night seemed to offer more than the Guinean has been able to. It’s a shame that Keita’s Liverpool career has been so disrupted, but I would personally be included to cash in on him than Oxlade-Chamberlain if given the opportunity to this summer.

James Milner is another player that has been maligned at times, not least of all by me. Yet as with every time I criticise a player, decision or coach at Liverpool, I’m absolutely delighted when I’m made to look stupid after the fact. Time and again Milner has come in and proven his worth to the squad, putting in shifts that help us get across the line. We’re better off with him available for the final game than without him. The same is true of both Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri, one of whom still has a bright future ahead of him and the other has done enough to ensure that they’re remembered as a quality bit-part player moving forward. In seasons like this, you discover the players that can stand up and perform for you when they’re needed, even if they’re not ultimately at the right level. Then again, if they’re only going to be squad players then what level do they need to be at? That’s the question that the manager and his backroom staff will have to wrestle with this summer.

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